Kindness Counts

DePaul students prepare to film an anti-bullying PSA with Highland Elementary pupils at CineSpace studio recently. (October 28, 2013)

There are a lot of different ways to handle an encounter with a school bully on the playground. Some kids might run away to tell a teacher about what happened. Some might tell the bully off in the moment or try to fight back. Others might cry and wait to tell their parents about it later.

Last year, when a kid ran up to 9-year-old Dylan Kaufmann and punched him in the stomach, the then-3rd- grader didn’t do any of those things. Instead, during an indoor recess, he and his friends devised a plan to end bullying at their school.

In the spirit of October’s National Bullying Month, Dylan and his now-fourth-grade class at Highland Elementary in Skokie are doing their part to prevent bullying with a message they hope to spread to schools all over the country, thanks to the help of a group of DePaul University film students.

Dylan’s plan, which began as collecting signatures from fellow students who pledged they wouldn’t bully other kids, eventually became the Kindness Counts Club. “My three best friends helped me figure it out, and we had everyone in our class sign something saying they would never bully,” Dylan said. “It made me really happy.”

And then Dylan came up with another idea: To make a video about the club to show how much acts of bullying and the words bullies use can hurt their victims. He talked to his mom, Sue, a “Chicago Fire” costume designer, about it. She, in turn, passed the idea of filming a Public Service Announcement against bullying to Chris Vinopal, who teaches film at DePaul. Vinopal, then, took the idea to some of his students.

“The students just took it under their wing,” said Vinopal, executive producer for the film. “I didn’t want to take it on as a project of my own because I wanted them to have it as an experience like you would in the professional industry: ‘Here’s the PSA, here’s the deadline, here’s the content, shoot it, edit it, get it out there. And that’s exactly what they did. I was very surprised at how many students volunteered their time for the cause.”

Alexander Mallory, a 21-year-old second-year grad student, was assigned the role of director after being one of the first students to outline his ideas for the PSA with Vinopal.

“I almost didn’t take it because I had so much on my plate, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was such a great story,” Mallory said. “When I was a 3rd-grader, I was thinking about playing on the playground and making friends. I don’t know how Dylan thought of this, but he’s wise beyond his years.”

The 30-second video, filmed at DePaul’s CineSpace studio, features students from Dylan’s class standing in front of a black background and repeating, one at a time, some of the hurtful words and phrases they’ve endured, including “Weirdo,” “Dummy,” “Fatty,” and “You’re annoying.” It ends with a voiceover that says, “Hero--someone who stands up for others. Together, we can make kindness count.”

It was released online Oct. 17.

The group also filmed the students performing a flash mob--an idea that also came out of the third-grade class--at Highland Elementary at the end of the last school year to bring more attention to the Kindness Counts Club. The students danced to Sara Bareilles’ “Brave”--a song they didn’t get the rights to use until the morning of filming.

The PSA and flash mob already has received a lot of positive attention from the school community as well as some media outlets, including CBS Chicago.

“I think that sometimes kids feel a little powerless, and this has been a great lesson for them about how much a child can accomplish,” Sue Kaufmann said.

Club members-- as well as the students at DePaul that made the film--hope their PSA and flash mob will inspire other students to form their own clubs. As for Dylan’s favorite part of the whole experience?

“What I most enjoyed was that all of the boys who were bullying me stopped,” Dylan said.

The video to the PSA can be found here.

Erin Vogel is a RedEye special contributor.

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